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18 April 2024

Mowry Saben/Ralph Werther/Earl Lind/Jennie June: Part III - Comments and bibliography

Part I: early life

Part II: publications

Part III:  comments and bibliography 


Jennie June was also the pen name of Jane Croly (1829-1901), journalist – and definitely a different person.


While our June’s writings were the earliest first-person accounts of being a feminine invert, the publication in books restricted to professionals, and in medical journals that ordinary persons never see, means that the example was not available to other inverts, androgynes and trans persons. Autobiography of an Androgyne cost $4 when first published in 1919. An average worker making circa $10 a week would be unlikely to spend 40% of a weekly wage on the book even if they were permitted to do so. Even more so the fairies in the Bowery where lodging could be obtained for fifteen cents, and a meal for ten cents.

Apparently, Saben/June chose the name ‘Earl Lind’ in that ‘Earl’ rhymes with ‘girl’, and from the noted singer Jennie Lind.  There is no mention of the noted Swedish female impersonator ?Lind? who had toured the US several times.

While the masquerade balls at the Hamilton Lodge did not become the so-called Faggot’s Ball or Dance of the Fairies until a new group of organizers took over in 1923, transvesting persons had been attending since the original Masquerade and Civic Ball in 1869. There is no mention of this in either of June’s published books, although in the second the Philhedonic Ball is mentioned – which may be another name for the same.

Accounts of Paresis Hall, other than by Werther-June, are less effete, and present it as a gangster-owned brothel pimping trans girls and boys in drag.

Saben/June was proud of their German. So why no mention of Hirschfeld’s 1910 Die Transvestiten in the second book? They had made a point of reading Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis and even Otto Weininger.

When Saben-June say that they have read Havelock Ellis, of course they mean Sexual Inversion, 1900. Eonism and Other Supplementary Studies was not published until 1928. This is unfortunate in that Eonism and Hirschfeld’s Transvestiten (which apparently Saben-June did not read) provide examples of the variety of lives lived by trans women at that time.

The other oft-cited example of ‘fairies’ or ‘tantes’ living with, cruising or even loving young toughs is Jean Genet’s 1943 novel Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs. When I first began to transition in the 1970s I met a few older trans women who assumed that I would live that kind of life. I – being a gaylib allumna and for other reasons – dismissed the idea completely. My problem with the Werther-June books is its assumption that if trans, that is the life. Plenty of trans women of Saben-June’s generation did otherwise. We recently saw the example of Stella Angel, born the same year as Saben, who was trans and sometimes in New York, without being a fairie. 

There is another aspect that alienates Werther-June from modern trans women. As Meyerowitz, 2011 puts it: 

“There is something else that troubles the categories that we routinely use today. In the book, Lind not only describes himself as feminine but also portrays himself as a baby. …When promenading the streets as a fairy, Lind insists that he is not an adult but a baby or ‘baby-doll.’ His fairy persona includes a loud and proud infantilism. It partly reflects Lind’s version of womanhood, in which the height of femininity is the ‘helpless cry-baby species of woman.’ Acting the baby also seems to be a way to try (not always successfully) to get young men to comfort, pet, and coddle a fairy.”

“Their craze for fellatio is only the abnormal survival through adulthood of the infant's feeding instinct”. Really? Freud said something similar – although he is not mentioned in this context. I am informed that if this idea comes up in modern gay pornography, it is a clue that the author is a woman.

Saben was of course a nepo baby who unlike the other fairies on the Bowery had a second life that provided an income and respectability. Some commentators have used Saben as a example of slumming. The ability to consult some of New York’s top doctors – for which one required both comportment and money – was also a priviledge denied the other fairies.  Some impoverished trans women or fairies did get reported on by top doctors - if referred by the police, or if incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals - something significantly different from a consultation.

Incidentally, a young and unkown German doctor had opened a medical practice in New York in 1914. His name was Harry Benjamin.

Saben apparently was not drafted in 1917 when the US joined the ongoing war. As he was then 47, this is not surprising.

It is ironic that the iconic androgyne of the 1910s was so anti-feminist, and insistent that women contribute nothing to culture. This despite taking the name Jennie June, who was a pioneer female journalist, and then the surname Lind from a noted female singer Jennie Lind. Saben wrote: “Women are quite as free as men. There is nothing but their lack of innate capacity to prevent them from becoming the great Poets, Musicians, Artists, Scientists, Philosophers, Inventors, and Reformers of the race” – this from someone who was educated at Harvard which did not permit women at all until the 1940s, and not propertly until 1970.

In 1895 in Oxford, Saben went bankrupt owing £388/16/6. This at a time when a standard working wage was £1 a week.

Comments from other writers:

The Little Review, November 1914, said: “The Spirit of Life, a series of nine essays by Mowry Saben (Mitchell Kennerley), is the kind of book that makes me savagely controversial and then cross for heeding it at all. Its platitudinous optimism meanders along through some two hundred and fifty pages. … There are indubitably certain good things in the book, but they are by Goethe, Carlyle, Emerson, Dante, Shakespeare, Whitman, et al.” Online.

Joanne Meyerowitz, 2011 wrote of the Autobiography: “In his own telling, Lind spends most of his days living the seemingly uneventful life of a college-educated, native-born Protestant, middle-class white man, a deeply religious scholar with aspirations to missionary work, but he also leads a secret “double life,” compelled by strong sexual longings — irresistible cravings to perform fellatio — that torment and distract him. In the late nineteenth century he becomes a flaneur, wandering at night through the poorer neighborhoods of New York City, dressed as a down-at-the-heels man, but with a distinctive fairy style — red bow tie, white gloves — and the assumed street names of Ralph Werther and Jennie June. This is a classic “slumming” narrative told by a class and ethnic outsider. In the story Lind pursues rough young men, mainly the native-born sons of Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants, and he also shows a special fondness for soldiers, sailors, and other men in uniform. And he goes into great detail about his sex life, resorting to Latin phrases when the English might seem vulgar or obscene.”

Long Island medical journal. Associated Physicians of Long Island. Medical Book News. June, 1919, №6:

“The name of the author of this abnormal biography is of no interest. She, to accept his own classification, tells the inconveniencies, trials and sufferings of her unsocial condition for the purpose of securing some amelioration through legal recognition of his invasion. A woman’s mind, ways and proclivities encased in a body which is only one third feminine, and in particular possessing organs for which (s)he has no use but lacking an orifice for which she would have great use! helas, what a mess! Of course every person who is not normal is to be pitied, and so far as is consistent with running a world should be allowed all possible freedom. Whether the attitude of scientists and moralists toward the relation of the sexes which is so peculiar to this century, and bids fair to be its high light when looked at by the twenty-first can be made to include a benevolent view of congenital inverts, or ought to, is a fine subject for the expression of variant opinions. The author makes this plea — pity us, spare us: we are what we are against our wills. As for the substance of the book itself, — the reader will do well to have some apomorphine at hand. $4.00 is some price, too. A. F. E.”

Other Persons who knew Saben-June:

Jennie May Saben Burnap (1873-1971) 

Saben’s sister became Mrs Burnap after marriage in 1895 to Willard E Burnap.  Find a Grave names her as Jennie May (thereby suggesting Saben’s femme name of Jennie June). However the Mowry Saben death notices name her only as Mrs W E Burnap (her husband’s name). The Burnaps had one daughter, Ruth. 

Jennie was three years younger than Mowry. In her second book, p93, Jennie June wrote: “As for the genesis of my first feminine name, I chose "Jennie" at four. I have always considered it the most feminine of names. When I began my double life, I appended ‘June.’ I adopted that surname because of its beautiful associations,”

What Jennie May Saben Burnap thought about her brother riffing on her name is not recorded.

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

A poet and playwright from Maine, who befriended Saben at Harvard. He won the Pulitzer Prize three times in 1922, 1925 and 1928, and was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1927. Bisexual, never married. 

  • Scott Donaldson. Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet’s Life, Columbia University Press, 2007.


Clark Bell (1832-1918)

LLD, founder and for many years, editor of Medico-Legal Journal. Employed Saben under the name Earl Lind.

Prince A Morrow (1846-1913)

A sex hygienist who founded the Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis, the first Social Hygiene association in the United States, in New York City in 1905. In 1910, this organization joined with various other Social Hygiene associations across the country to create the American Federation for Sex Hygiene with Morrow as president. He translated works of the French dermatologist Jean Alfred Fournier (1832-1912), and he became the leading publicist of the syphilis problem.

During the 1890s, he had opposed plans for the annexation of Hawaii on the grounds that its population had high rate of leprosy. 

  • Prince A Morrow (ed). A System of Genito-Urinary Diseases, Syphilology and Dermatology. 1893.

Robert S Newton (1857-1903)

Neurologist and alienist who was well known in New York for providing expert testimony at trials.

Alfred W Herzog (1866-1933)

Herzog, physician and lawyer replaced Clark Bell as editor of Medico-Legal Journal. He published and wrote introductions for both of the Werther-June books.

He lived at 123 West 83rd Street, NY. He was arraigned in May 1925 charged with felonious assault after rescuing a female neighbor, one of his tenants, who was being beaten by two brothers with a club. He used his gun and put the two men in hospital.

His first wife, 30 years younger, divorced him in 1928.

Died of apoplexy at age 67.

  • Alfred W Herzog. “Homosexuality and the Law”. The Medical-Legal Journal, 34, 8, December 1917.
  •     “Doctor who shot 2 to save woman arraigned today”.  Daily News, May 19, 1925:2.

  •  “Chivalrous Doctor shoots 2: Woman in peril while Brothers raged, he avers”.  Daily News, May 19, 1925
  • Alfred W Herzog. Medical Jurisprudence. Bobbs-Merrill, 1931.

William Robinson (1867-1936)

Physician, sexologist and birth control advocate. Editor, American Journal of Urology and Sexology. Father of Victor Robinson. In 1919-20 the AJUS published several articles by Werther-June.

Victor Robinson (1886-1947)

Editor, Medical Review of Reviews. Published Werther-June’s "The Biological Sport of Fairie-ism, and had a contract to publish Riddle of the Underworld, the third part of Werther-June’s trilogy – although this never happened.

Robert Shufeldt (1850-1934)

Mycologist, ornithologist, army doctor and eugenicist. He worked as a surgeon in the campaign against the Sioux. He is credited with coining the word "paleopathology", the study of diseases and cause of death of decomposed specimens. He took many nude photographs.

In 1906 he examined and then wrote a paper on the fairie J W (Loop-the-Loop).

As a eugenicist he was obsessed with the purity of the white race. He wrote two book length harangues against black persons, The Negro: A Menace to American Civilization, 1907 and America’s Greatest Problem: the Negro, 1915. He also saw ‘perverts’ as an impurity that should be prevented by controlled breeding – but as most people were ignorant of their existence they should be written about.

He married three times. The first wife Catherine committed suicide in an asylum. His second wife, Florence Audubon, (granddaughter of John James Audubon, the noted ornithologist) left him after two months of marriage, accusing him of adultery with their Norwegian housekeeper, who would later become his third wife. Around this time he published a pamphlet titled On Female Impotency which included a photograph of a nude woman whom he described as a mulatto but likely was Ms. Audubon. This paper describing his personal problems, thinly veiled as medical research and meant to blackmail Florence, stated his affiliation to the Smithsonian Institution which outraged the Smithsonian leadership and led to his dismissal in 1897. Shufeldt refused to pay alimony following the divorce and claimed bankruptcy which was taken up in the US Supreme Court Audubon v. Shufeldt, 181 US 575 (1901). He took back many of the specimens that he had collected for the Smithsonian and later deposited them with the New York State Museum.

  • R W Shufeldt, "Dr. Havelock Ellis on Sexual Inversion," Pacific Medical journal (San Francisco), vol. 45 (1902), p. 20.
  • Robert W Shufeldt. “The Medico-Legal Consideration of Perverts and Inverts”. Pacific Medical Journal, XLVIII, July 1905:391-3. Online.
  • R W Shufeldt. “Biography of a Passive Pederast”. American Journal of Urology and Sexology, 13, 1917: 451-60. Online 


Excerpt from The Negro

Hugh Ryan On Shufeldt

Mitchell Kennerley (1878-1950)

From England, Kennerley was sent to New York to manage US branch of John Lane Publisher. Later he started own imprint. He published many books by the early 20th century avant garde including books about sex, some of them books by queer writers (including Wilde and Whitman). He published Saben’s The Spirit of Life, Saben wrote for his magazine, The Forum, and their 1924 correspondence in which they discuss homosexuality and inversion has survived.

There is no mention of Saben in Bruccoli’s biography except the The Spirit of Life is included in the long list of the books that he published in an appendix. In fact the word ‘homosexual’ appears but once – in connection with Wilde’s The Portrait of Mr. W. H.

  • Matthew J Bruccoli. The Fortunes of Mitchell Kennerly, Bookman. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.

Secondary publications:

  • “Local Failure – Re Israel Mowry Saben”. Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 2 Mar 1895. 
  • Robert W Shufeldt. “The Medico-Legal Consideration of Perverts and Inverts”. Pacific Medical Journal, XLVIII, July 1905:391-3. Online.
  • William Lee Howard. "Two Souls in One Body: A Realistic but Scientific Account of a True Psychological”, The Arena; 34, 192, Nov 1905: 467-9. An account of Jennie/Karl.
  • “Mowry Saben Dies in San Francisco“. 
  • Richard Cary. “Mowry Saben About Edwin Arlington Robinson”. Colby Quarterly, 9, 6, March 1972.
  • Bert Hansen. “American Physicians' Earliest Writings about Homosexuals, 1880-1900”. The Milbank Quarterly, 67, 1, 1989.
  • George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. Basic Books, 1994: 42–44, 51, 52, 54, 55, 59–60, 62, 77, 79, 110, 118, 187, 190, 291–292.
  • Anne Herrmann. “The Androgyne as ‘Fairie’: A Self-Authored Case History” Queering the moderns: poses/portraits/performances. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000: 143-163. Discusses Werther as one of six early examples of writers who cross boundaries and “queer the traditional spaces of modernism”.
  • Henry L Minton. Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America. University of Chicago Press, 2002: 19-29,
  • Melissa Norelle Stein. Embodying Race: Gender, Sex, and the Sciences of Difference, 1830-1934. PhD thesis, Rutgers University, May 2008: 217-235. Online.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. “Thinking Sex with an Androgyne” GLQ 17.1, 2011.
  • Aaron Shaheen. “Strolling through the Slums of the Past: Ralph Werther’s Love Affair with Victorian Womanhood in Autobiography of an Androgyne”. Journal of the Modern Language Association of America (PMLA) 128.4, 2013. 
  • Emma Heaney. The New Woman: Literary Modernism, Queer Theory, and the Trans Feminine Allegory. Northwestern University Press, 2017: 172-8.
  • Bjorn Klein. „Voyeurismus und die Macht des Blicks in den Sexualwissenschaften und der New Yorker Unterwelt um 1900“. L’Homme, October 2019.
  • Francisco Araujo da Costa. „Original Reviews of Autobiography of an Androgyne”. Medium, Jun 23, 2019. Online.
  • Channing Gerard Joseph. “Who Was Jennie June?”. Outhistory, October 10, 2022. Online.
  • Lee Lanzillotta. “How an ‘Androgyne’ Upended Gender in 1899”. Gay & Lesbian Review, November-December 2023. 

Find-a-Grave            Wikipedia(Jennie June)                  Wikipedia(Mowry Saben)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous19/4/24 08:16

    Great blog. Wondering if you’ll ever do a write-up on Thomas Baty/Irene Clyde, contemporaneous to Saben/June but quite a contrasting figure wrt sexology etc.


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